How Student Athletes Pile Up Wins for Decades

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Forget joining the high school band or the yearbook staff: Playing competitive youth sports imparts better odds of both early career and late-life success, two studies indicate.

The research from Cornell University and Southern Illinois University was written up in a single article — “Sports at Work: Anticipated and Persistent Correlates of Participation in High School Athletics” — published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies.

The first study, which focused on early careers, found that people expect former student athletes to display “significantly higher levels” of three positive qualities than people who were active in activities outside of sports — such as yearbook or band participation.

The three qualities are:

  • Leadership
  • Self-confidence
  • Self-respect

The second study found that men who were active in sports at the varsity level an average of 60 years earlier continued to display high levels of leadership and to work in higher-status careers.

In addition, these men were more likely to volunteer and make charitable donations than those who were not athletes in school.

The article concludes:

“In effect, we find that participation in competitive youth sports appears to correspond with a set of occupationally advantageous traits that tend to persist across a person’s life. …

Given the popular importance of sports in many people’s lives, closer attention is overdue for understanding sports’ roles in the workplace and beyond …”

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